-- LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Florida State is eight games into this season, and its identity is fairly clear. The Seminoles thrive when the situation appears bleakest.
They have dealt with so many distractions off the field, it almost feels as if they want distractions on the field, a strange psychology that has actually worked for them. Because once again, the Seminoles overcame a second-half deficit to save their season, this time in a 42-31 win over Louisville on Thursday night.
Four times this season, Florida State has needed second-half comebacks to win. But it faced its largest deficit against the Cardinals, down 21-0 in the second quarter against the No. 1 rated defense in America. Momentum shifted to the home Cards, but Florida State just shrugged.
"Been there before," quarterback Jameis Winston said.
Florida State scored just before halftime. Coach Jimbo Fisher remained calm in the locker room. Halftime adjustments worked before; they would work again. The Noles had rallied before; they would rally again.
So they did, blitzing Louisville for 35 second-half points behind Winston and the talented freshman trio of Dalvin Cook, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph. Florida State trailed 31-28 with 9:20 remaining, then scored the final two touchdowns of the game. There should never be any doubt, not with Winston calling the shots.
Playing on a sprained ankle in the second half, he limped around but was as effective as he always is with the game on the line. After a dismal opening, Winston went 15-of-26 for 278 yards with three touchdowns in the final two quarters, throwing for 401 total yards.
"We play better when we're down, honestly," Winston said.
"Why?" he repeated. "We like winning. We'd do anything to win. I don't think we enjoy being down, but when everyone is against you, it's a reality check. We get that chip back on our shoulder. We just have to start off like that."
But they rarely do. That is why its critics scream that this team is missing something. The Noles look so beatable, it is hard to reconcile their sometimes ordinary play with second-half performances that leave opponents shaking their fists and thinking, "We almost had them."
This Florida State team is not the 2013 Florida State team. Close victories have replaced blowouts, adding to the confusion. All season, the Seminoles have had to deal with unrealistic expectations that have nothing to do with this team and everything to do with the last team.
They may not win perfectly, but they win. That should count for something.
"That's character, that's guts, to go out there and keep your poise and stay into the game and never think you're out of it," senior receiver Rashad Greene said. "That's a different type of team. We find a win every week. We're still trying to work on starting faster but as long as we're winning, it will take care of itself."
Maybe somewhere deep down, Florida State does not want to start faster. Greene joked, "I'm convinced we should go ahead and give out 21 points for us to come out and play fast the way we want to play. ...
"Once we get behind, we become so dominant that if we started that way, the games would be over quickly."
But they are not, and Florida State has to keep fighting. No play exemplified that more than the first play of the third quarter. Trailing 21-7, the Seminoles got the ball to open the half. Winston dropped back to pass and threw his third interception -- a career high.
Winston scrambled and found Gerod Holliman, stripping the ball right out. Florida State recovered. Some may call that a lucky break, but Winston made a play when he absolutely had to, as has been his trademark.
"I had to do something," Winston said. "I never threw three picks in my whole life. When I'm throwing picks, I gotta try to get me some turnovers myself."
Florida State ended up punting, but Louisville never really got its momentum back. Not even after it took a 31-28 fourth-quarter lead. The Seminoles have not lost a game since 2012, so why would they start now?
They would absolutely win another close game.
"When we're fighting in games like we had tonight, we know we've been there before so we know what it's like to be there, we know how it feels to pull it out," guard Tre Jackson said.
They also know what it feels like to be dismissed, to be counted out, and rooted against every single week.
Maybe they want it that way.